The Pittsburgh Steelers had to do with the entirety of the right have of their starting offensive line on Monday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
All-Pro right guard David DeCastro missed his second game in a row with a fractured hand, while right tackle Marcus Gilbert suffered wear and tear on his hamstring after playing over 170 snaps the previous two weeks.
B.J. Finney started in place of DeCastro and Matt Feiler made the second start of his career—first at tackle—for Gilbert. And while they performed admirably for most of the game in pass protection, it was pretty clear that something was missing from the running game.
On James Conner’s first three carries against the Buccaneers, he totaled minus-four yards, including two carries of negative yardage with a long of one. He only had three successful runs throughout the game, and two of them came toward the very end as they were closing out the win.
While that is the most important time to have successful runs, the inability to get things going on the ground earlier in the game hindered the Steelers’ ability to be balanced.
And while the need for balance in the offense is regularly overstated, it’s still important for any team to establish success running the ball in order to force the defense to respect the threat.
Hopefully they can establish that tomorrow night with the return of arguably their two best offensive linemen, but it won’t be an easy task against a Baltimore Ravens front seven that is betting back not only C.J. Mosley but also Michael Pierce.
The Ravens’ defense has not as been stalwart as in the past—and their numbers are still somewhat biased from the opener against the Buffalo Bills before they made a change at quarterback—they still have the personnel and have long matched well against the Steelers.
I’m sure they are eager to get a long look at Conner as well. He had nearly 200 yards from scrimmage in his first game, much of it on the ground on 31 carries. But interestingly enough he has not been used much as a ball-carrier the past two weeks, the passing game being emphasized.
What sort of approach will we see the Steelers take tomorrow against the Ravens? Will they try to get the running game established? Can Conner expect to see more than the 23 carries that he has had over the past two weeks?